Saturday, 11 May 2013

Piaf - everyones favourite little bistro

A short stroll from the CBD is one of the best places in Brisbane and in my opinion one of the great spaces in Australia.  Where else in the country can you walk along the river to a man-made beach for a swim?  How many locations have literally dozens of good restaurants as well as many more cheap eats locations?  Southbank is arguably the cultural heartland of Brisbane, with amazing restaurants, theatres and museums, simply awesome.

I had arranged to meet SC after work so we could walk to Piaf together and we had no trouble finding the little French bistro.  We have walked by Piaf a million times (well, a slight exaggeration) so I knew where we had to go and before too long we were seated at our table looking over the menus.  Piaf is an interesting looking little bistro which has an even split of indoor and alfresco dining areas.  It's actually quite cozy inside with tables placed quite close to each other, but outside seems to have a little more space.  With the weather starting to cool down, SC and I were comfortable to be inside where it was a little warmer.

Like the restaurant itself, the menu is also quite petite with a relatively limited range per course which is split into entrees, light meals and mains.  There are about 4 options for each of the courses and while there are few options available, the range of items is quite  diverse.  Given the relatively limited options available, I actually struggled to decide on what I wanted for main, there was nothing that jumped out of the menu and said 'pick me'.  SC had no such troubles and had her full meal mapped out within a few seconds of looking at the menu.  It wasn't until the waitress told us about the one and only special that I was able to make my selection, in fact she only got halfway through describing the main special before I had jumped in and confirmed this option.

To start, SC had opted for the pork brandade with fig chutney, watercress and toasted baguette which was quite a regal looking dish.  The brandade was stacked with the watercress delicately placed on top like a crown, which added to the charm of the dish.  It's unusual to see a brandade from pork as the main component is usually pureed salted cod, but by using the pork the brandade lost none of the saltiness that you would expect.  The salty pork was balanced well with the sweetness of the fig chutney, which had a grainy texture.  The toasted baguette came in very handy to smear the chutney and brandade across and gave the whole dish a lovely crunch.

My entree of scallops with courgette, parmesan, preserved lemon and quinoa was quite an interesting dish with ingredients that you don't often see paired together.  Quinoa is normally associated with the health food movement and is often used as a substitue for rice and an ingredient I have never seen on a restaurant menu before.  The scallops were really well cooked with a nice caramelisation and sat atop of a nicely cooked slice of courgette and the flavours worked well together.  I really liked the preserved lemon wich gave the dish a slightly tart flavour and enhanced the flavour of the scallops.  I'm not entirely convinced about the merits of adding quinoa to the dish, they didn't really provide any flavour or texture that added to the dish, in fact I think the entree would have been better without it.  Overall though, I loved the concept of the dish and enjoyed the flavours.

The main menu at Piaf had a slightly wintery feel to it and SC had no hesitation in choosing the braised beef cheeks with celeriac, blistered tomatoes with peppitas and jus.  Normally beef cheeks are accompanied by a mash potato but by adding the blistered tomatoes to the plate, the dish felt more like an Autumn meal.  The beef cheeks, which were cooked to absolute perfection and fell apart at the slightest touch, had a rich and intense beef flavour.  The jus was delightful and contributed to the earthy rich flavour of the dish.  The vegetables that accompanied enhanced the flavours by adding a lovely freshness to the dish, they actually helped lighten the meal.

The special on the night that I had so readily jumped at consisted of rare veal with cauliflower puree, creamed leeks, spinach sweet potato and bacon bits all covered in jus from the pan.  The veal looked extremely pink and rare but was expertly cooked and tasted simply amazing.  This was a plate of food in complete balance and had the perfect amount of seasoning.  In fact, I've rarely had a meal where the seasoning is so perfect and completely enhanced all of the flavours on the plate.  The puree was delicious and had crunchy bacon bits floating throughout, which added little packets of additional salty flavour when you found one.  The star of the show however, was the veal.  It was tasty and full of flavour and so tender that the knife sliced through the meat like butter.  The only downside for me was the sweet potato, which I am not fond of, so I left a mostly empty plate with just a few pieces of sweet potato remaining.

SC and I had a bit of a debate about dessert, we both initially wanted the salted caramel pannacotta with lemon curd and rhubarb, but on this occasion I won the debate!  The pannacotta was a very refined looking dessert and was pretty on the plate.  The pannacotta was set perfectly with just the right amount of wobble and the whole time it was on the plate it looks as if it might collapse, but never did.  The pannacotta itself was actually slightly on the bitter side and after sampling a bit SC declared that she was very happy she didn't order it.  I quite liked the bitter caramel flavour as it married really well with the sweet lemon curd.  The dish was balanced even further when the rhubarb was added to the mix with the slightly tart rhubarb and the very sweet curd balancing out the bitter caramel.  It was not an overly sweet dessert anyway, but I loved it.

The final dish of the night was SC's warm chocolate brownie with brandy butter and poached pear and it was a cracker.  The dessert was very rustic looking with no precise lines anywhere but fit perfectly with the ingredients on the plate.  Initially SC thought the brandy butter was too overpowering, but once the butter had a chance to melt and soak into the brownie, the intense brandy flavour mellowed and worked perfectly with the sweet chocolate delight.  The brownie was crumbly and had an intense chocolate flavour that the pear actually helped to balance out.  I think the raspberries on the plate added a lovely little bite of tartness to the dish, but SC hates raspberries so missed this nuance.

A lot of what I have read and heard about Piaf, apart from the fact that the food is delish, is that the serving sizes are on the small side.  While I agree that they are not massive in size, neither are they small, especially when you consider that the prices are about 25% cheaper than comparable restaurants. I felt that all three courses were actually good value and I did not leave the restaurant hungry at all, which is telling about the serving sizes.

Piaf is considered a French bistro, but I found the menu to be only French influenced and more reflected Modern Australian cuisine.  The bistro is very cute and has a cool feel to it with the simple layout and stained wood everywhere.  There are no fancy table cloths or silver service here, but the wait staff were really friendly and the service good.  We never felt rushed throughout the meal, even though they wanted the table back for a later sitting.

We really enjoyed our first visit to Piaf and had some lovely food.  It's the type of place that you could easily go back to and fall in love with.....  There is no doubt that many of the friends I spoke to about my visit with Piaf had already fallen in love with this little bistro & while I'm not yet looking back at the meal with the same reverence that some of my friends do, after a couple of more visits Piaf will likely have that effect on me as well.


I loved the simplicity of the artwork on the wall.  I'm not sure what it represents, probably something deep
SC had a lovely little red
Piaf was not super busy when we first arrived, but by the time we left it was starting to hum along
Lots of stained wood around ad the kitchen is quite small and hidden away.  Its such an intimate space that you could hear the chef calling out the orders
Indoor and outdoor, Piaf has it all

Piaf on UrbanspoonPiaf Bar Cafe Bistro 

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